Croatian right-wing activist and president of the Catholic association Vigilare John-Vice Batarelo on June 24th posted a status on Facebook calling Fred Matić, a Croatian representative in the EU Parliament ”a person who boasts about allowing genocide upon children in Europe” and a ”baby killer”. The accusation was a result of Matić’s ”Report on the situation of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the EU, in the frame of women’s health” that was positively received and accepted by the EU Parliament.
Members of John-Vice Batarelo’s association Vigilare, including himself in general, are proudly promoting ”being woke and retrograde”. Their public discourse is predominantly composed of promoting the Catholic church and its far-right, most conservative standpoints on society. Out of the numerous social rulings of the Church, one that Vigilare promotes the most is the ban of abortion, no matter what the circumstances are and no matter how it affects a woman’s health, body and social or economic status.
Batarelo interprets the acceptance of Matić’s report from the EU Parliament as a great impact on the number of European Union-wide abortion count. It is important to note that Batarelo’s association Vigilare believes that life begins by conception and not by birth. In their beliefs, abortion is murder and by analogy keeping abortions legal is highly immoral and ”against God”. Therefore, Batarelo allows himself to call MEP Matić a ”baby killer”.
Weaponizing the term ‘genocide’
In his post about Fred Matić’s report, John-Vice Batarelo loosely uses the term ”genocide” to describe the effects of the report in question. As it is cited by the UN, genocide is a term coined by the Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin and it is defined by systematic murders and other targeted actions aimed at the destruction of particular ethnic or other groups of people.
The UN will classify an act as an act of genocide if it finds mental and physical elements that indicate it. The mental element is an intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part. The physical element includes the acts of killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm, forcibly transferring the group to another geographical location, etc. Only by confirming the existence of these elements can an act be classified and constituted as a genocide.
Matić’s ”Report on the situation of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the EU, in the frame of women’s health” alludes to no such thing, nor does it contain any of the intents needed to even allow an act of such nature like genocide. John-Vice Batarelo uses the term in a way to mislead his followers and the public into believing that the report will exponentially increase the numbers of abortions to the point of ”genocide”.
What the report is actually about
Contrary to Batarelo’s interpretation, Matić’s report is not solely on the topic of abortion. In the 41 page document approved by the EU parliament, Matić discusses a number of topics, including the call for consensus between the laws in the EU member states, calling for comprehensive sexuality education for young people, demands for safe and fair menstrual products for all, demanding more protection for victims of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic and more.
Only in article D, paragraph 33. does Matić mention abortions as a ‘’voluntary decision based on a person’s request, given of their own free will in accordance with medical standards and availability, accessibility, affordability and safety based on WHO guidelines’’. In the article D, Matić asks certain member states to decriminalize abortions, as well as to remove ideological barriers to abortions in the member states where it is legal. He also calls for restraining medical practitioners from pulling the “conscience clause’’ card, a choice for a medical worker to decline a potential abortion patient because the procedure is not in line with his or her beliefs.
Matić’s report is in its entirety a document that wishes to benefit women’s reproductive and sexual health and does not contain signs of political intent or point of view. It is also worth noting, as it is said in the minority position notes in the report, that this document has no legal or formal rigour. From a legal standpoint, this report has no constitutional effect, nor does it forcibly change the laws of member states that are not in accord. The report is of only advisory nature and could only be used as a guideline for changing the status quo in certain member states when it comes to women’s reproductive and sexual healthcare.
Broader social context
Croatia, as a country in which more than 86 percent of the population declares Catholic is well influenced by conservative political views and public actors. Vigilare, led by Vice Batarelo and his conservative activism, is one of numerous right-oriented associations participating in and organizing all sorts of events, most popular of them being “Hod za život” (eng. Walk for Life). This event’s main goal is to advocate against abortion, it somehow resembles a protest and is held yearly in cities across Croatia, often during the period of electoral silence.
Vice Batarelo’s association Vigilare came up with an explicit anti-abortion campaign in the midst of local elections. Campaign, which was in favour of the candidacy of Miroslav Škoro for the mayor of Zagreb against his main opponent Tomislav Tomašević of Možemo, was depicted as a coin of Croatian Kuna with parts of bloody fetus on it. Using wordplay, Vigilare topped the campaign with: “milking (the citizens) and tearing up children with your money”.
Vigilare’s campaign against Fred Matić, the European Parliament report and women’s right to abortion has not stopped since and it goes as far as comparing the MEP to the notorious horror character Freddie Kruger.
Also, Narod.hr, a right-wing online media outlet, reported on Fred Matić’s report as “an legally illiterate act” and “getting off the right track”, calling the right to abortion “a non-existent sexual and reproductive right” which is to be imposed on children through Sexual Education in schools.
A worldwide problem
It is important to stress that lack of fair and accessible reproductive health is a problem for a large number of women around the world, not only in “third world countries”. This matter and the importance of enabling women to decide on their bodies and exercise sexual and reproductive rights was recognized by the European Parliament committee and therefore resulted in acceptance of the previously mentioned resolution. MEPs referred to conclusions and points on this issue recently discussed at the “Nairobi summit” on population and development.
The European Union is facing new challenges every day in an attempt to secure these basic human rights. One of the main catalysts for adoption of this resolution on its territory is “the Polish de facto ban of abortion” adopted in the Polish Parliament in November of 2020. This act was declared a threat to the guarantee of human rights and a health risk for women by the Parliament.
To conclude, it is fair to accentuate the European Parliament resolution and Fred Matić’s report, as it goes, have no hidden agenda, especially promotion and advocacy for a greater number of abortions. The Resolution is merely a call for state members, holding guidelines to secure best possible medical care for all women in member states and wider. It advocates for women’s rights, special emphasis on equal access to medical care and body autonomy. On the other hand, Batarelo’s claims that both the resolution and the EU Parliament are promoting the increase of abortions in member states. It also weaponizes the term ‘genocide’ for shock value and accentuating the false seriousness of the report and it’s mere advisory effects. In accordance with everything mentioned, the media claims by John-Vice Batarelo are proven to be false and misleading.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Gabrijela Radunović & Ivan Ilić, Faculty of Political Science, University of Zagreb
Leave your comments, thoughts and suggestions in the box below. Take note: your response is moderated.